Saturday morning surfaced achingly early with the incessant buzzing of my phone. The news reports had broadened our exposure significantly. Josh fielded a phone call from his work and was furious to be called in to supervise. With a kiss and an apology, he left for work.
Anger seemed a productive way to vent my emotions, and I bitched about Josh’s company while I planned my day. I knew he had to work, and life doesn’t stop, even in the midst of a tragedy.
“Life doesn’t stop and start at your convenience, Donny,” Walter’s infamous comment from The Big Lebowski echoed through my head.
Using Facebook to garner support, I asked people to meet me at a local pub, The Up and Under, owned by friends of ours. It is located on busy Brady Street and would be a perfect meeting place on a sunny day — the street would be crowded. After I arranged a meeting time, I left to print 1,500 flyers and to buy more tape. Perhaps I should buy stock in 3M, the good people responsible for the magic that is Scotch Tape, I mused, as I’d already burned through what felt like hundreds of rolls in a couple days.
On my way to printing, I stopped at the local post office. I hoped the couriers could carry a flyer with them and keep an eye out for Briggs; I desperately needed observant people who walked the streets on my side.
Typical of Saturday, a long line of tense people wound through the post office. I skipped the line of people and asked for the postal workers’ help. Sadly, they couldn’t — or wouldn’t — do much.
As I turned away in frustration, an extremely large black woman in a housedress stepped out of line and blocked my path.
“You were on television last night. I’m so, so sorry to hear about your dog.” Her brown eyes radiated kindness.
“Thank you,” I said and handed her a flyer, happy that the newscast had made such an impact.
Sighing with sadness, she reached out and embraced me. Pulling my head down on to her gigantic, heaving bosom, she began to pray for me and gently rocked me.
“Please, oh mighty Lord, help this girl find her poor little puppy.”
As my face pressed into her sizeable breasts, I was torn between laughing hysterically or burying my face deeper and sobbing. There was something oddly comforting about being cradled by this large, gospel-loving grandmother as she prayed for me. I wanted to curl up and let her rock my fear away. I decided it was best to do neither, so I removed myself from her embrace and thanked her sincerely for her kindness.
And for the prayers. We certainly needed both.
After printing thousands of flyers, all while avoiding the curious gazes of the soccer mom printing school flyers next to me, I parked on Brady Street. What a stunningly perfect day, I thought. The sidewalks were packed with little tables and chairs, pulled out from back rooms and dusted off. Patio weather was finally in full effect. I was excited; the weather was cooperating, and I was sure it would be the perfect day to reach tons of people. I unloaded the car, balancing the boxes precariously as bags of tape swung from my arms. I couldn’t wait to get started. I would have a real team today. A taskforce. We’d comb the city and find Briggs. Today was our day.
My phone vibrated with a call from Josh. He was at work, but he couldn’t help stealthily hopping on Craigslist now and then to search for anyone trying to buy or sell a Boston terrier. Josh responded to one Craigslist posting and found out it had been placed by a couple who frequented the same dog park where we took Briggs; they didn’t know how else to find us and offer help. Apparently, the dog park was up in arms over Briggs’ dognapping. God, I love dog people, I thought.
My friend Michelle texted to let me know that she couldn’t meet me, but was taping a flyer to her car window since she would be in several areas of the city that day. Noting that as a great idea, I quickly added flyers to my rear passenger door windows.
Hefting the boxes of flyers into my arms, I crossed the street with a bit of a spring in my step. People are helping now. We can do this. We can find Briggs. We will find Briggs.
I entered the bar, ready to greet my search-and-rescue team. But as it turned out, “team” in this case meant one person — as in the only person who showed up to help. I stopped. This couldn’t be. There had to be more people coming to help. And the one person who had showed up? I barely knew him. He was a guy from a group workout class I participated in, but he loved dogs and wanted to help.
Sadness slammed through me. Why was this so hard? Where was everyone? Of course, I thought. It’s the first real day of summer, and nobody wants to spend their time passing out flyers and talking about depressing things like stolen dogs.
Relentless, I reminded myself.
Thankfully, the owners of the bar and another couple, Jocelyn and Chris, arrived shortly thereafter. They all had afternoon plans but were willing to take flyers with them. Jocelyn and Chris would be at Pugfest the next day and planned to hand out hundreds of flyers to the dog owners there as well. Grateful, I handed them flyers and tape.
Unsure of what else I could do, I started making a list of places I’d already been to and tried to think of new ones. Where can I find people who walk or ride the city? We needed bikers, cyclists, runners, and people who are out during the day — pedestrians could be our saviors.
My phone rang, and my friend Caroline told me she was on her way.
Thank God, I thought. I just didn’t know if I could do it alone that day, so her call was a huge relief.
Caroline and I started with the closest option — the hundreds of people on patios on Brady Street. As expected, the city was alive with people: people having brunch, people riding bikes, motorcycles cruising, runners doing their exercise thing, and people who were lucky enough to still be walking their own dogs. There was an overall sense of happiness and excitement to the city, as vivid as the sun that had finally decided to shine.
Milwaukee had seen cold weather for too long.
I couldn’t begrudge people and their happiness on such a day, but it did strengthen my hatred for the man who had stolen Briggs; he’d stolen that beautiful day from us as well. We should have been celebrating my friend’s birthday. We should have been able to relax with a Bloody Mary, our dog at our feet, and laugh with good friends. Instead, I could only wander the streets with my heart torn to shreds and my mind abusing me with unanswered questions. While everyone else was basking in the warmth of the sun, I felt cold and helpless as I fought against a mystery that we didn’t know how to solve.
Throughout the day, we stopped at bike shops and motorcycle hangouts and hung flyers on poles in front of places where people were dining on patios. My friend Carrie, an avid dog lover, stopped to pick up some flyers. She lived outside the city and was absolutely distraught about Briggs; she was ready to fight hard to find him. Later, I would learn that Carrie had covered most of her city, a one-woman team.
“Our dog was stolen…our dog was stolen…our dog was stolen,” I repeated over and over again. After a while, the words lost their meaning, as if it was some mindless saying I was reciting, a fake repetition of something that couldn’t possibly have happened. It felt like we were telling someone else’s story.
I learned then that it’s entirely possible to move from feeling numb to feeling frozen. As I watched people’s distraught reactions and recounted the story over and over, I learned to cut to the most important details and to keep my emotions out of it.
After a long day of work, Josh came to pick me up, and we made the decision to head to the north side of Milwaukee — no-man’s land. Unlike other bad areas of the city, this area was an absolute wasteland.
We drove the streets and looked for light poles and bus stops where we could hang our flyers. As we stared at the surrounding landscape, our tension grew. This place was empty and utterly soulless.
The late afternoon sun cast a warm glow across the abandoned, concrete jungle, but even the sun’s radiance couldn’t pierce the cold heart of that neighborhood. I almost couldn’t stomach the thought of Briggs being in this place.
Not here, I prayed.
Josh skidded to a quick stop at every pole and bus stop.
“Hurry,” he said, his eyes urgently tracking the rearview mirrors.
I had my flyers taped and ready and moved as fast as I could, but I could feel eyes on me, watching. Still, I never saw anyone. What does that say about a neighborhood? I wondered. The first beautiful day of summer, and nobody is outside. There were no dogs, no flowers, no children.
A few abandoned parking lots held groups of men, huddled around cars. As we drove past, they straightened, staring us down. Their unspoken message was clear: You aren’t welcome here.
My fear for Briggs outweighed their message.
As the light grew faint, we abandoned our mission. Driving home, we stopped to flyer another high-traffic street. My friend Carrie had mentioned she would try to cover that area while she was babysitting her niece, Cleona, that day. My eyes glazed with tears as I saw hundreds of flyers covering trashcans, bus stops, and poles. Carrie had come through.